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General Automation – NiBek, Stoke-on-Trent – 2015

Paper Bottle Manufacturing Plant

The Project:

Nibek, a leading manufacturer in process plant undertook an R&D project for a paper bottle manufacturing machine, primarily for the pharmaceutical industry, using a microwave drying system. UCS worked in conjunction with Nibek to determine the best solution for this type of application and with considerations made for further modifications and enhancements to be made during the R&D testing.

Existing systems utilised a significantly large footprint than the proposed project and had very large costs involved. This allowed the client the ability to look at developing a new system, for a much lower cost.


The project had some concerns associated with it from the outset

  • Could the product be accurately mixed?
  • Would the servos split the moulds correctly without damaging the product?
  • Could the pneumatics move the product between the station and the dryer without damage?
  • Would the microwave dryer be suitably powerful in the small footprint?
  • Could the microwave dryer be integrated successfully with the PLC controller?


Before beginning work on the project, the UCS Engineers spent a lot of time learning what processes the final machine would need to go through to fully understand the operation, an outline of their findings is detailed below in Understanding the Process. This was a critical step that allowed UCS to build, program and deliver a working control system on time and on budget.


In 2015, UCS Automation delivered and commissioned a fully operational control system answering Yes to all the above concerns, at a fraction of the cost of one of the existing machines on the market. Both the Managing Director and Investment Team at Nibek were highly satisfied by the results.

Our Services

We provided the following services for this project:

  • Electrical AutoCAD design drawings. See our Design page
  • Control Panel Manufacturer. See our Manufacture page
  • PLC & HMI Software design. See our Software Design page
  • Disconnection and removal of the existing mechanical system
  • Installation, Testing and Commissioning of the system. See our Installation and Commissioning pages

Control System:

Control of the entire system was handled by Rockwell Automation’s Allen Bradley line of PLCs. A CompactLogix PLC, PanelView Plus 7 HMI, Powerflex inverters and Kinetix 300 Servo drives were utilised on this project. All interconnections between the control equipment were handled via Ethernet, allowing full control and alarm handling over the network, minimising wiring requirements.

The PanelView Plus 7 HMI was a 10.4” colour screen, allowing the operator to monitor the machine status and adjust operation parameters. It also allowed the operators and maintenance team on site to identify and resolve any faults very quickly, minimising downtime.


Understanding the Process:

As part of the process UCS Automation needed to learn and fully understand the manufacturing of a paper bottle to develop the control panel for the plant and software required to operate it. The plant was grouped into several, smaller functions, for the development process.

A) Product Mixer:

The product Mixer required loadcells with anti-vibration mounts and a loadcell amplifier mounted in the control panel. The operator presses a start button, then the control system weighs the product and calculates the amount of water to achieve the required ratio. The mixer runs until the product is suitably mixed and indicates mixing has completed.

B) Product Holding tank:

The Holding tank required a level transducer. When the tank level drops and the Product Mixer has completed the mixing process, a transfer pump moved product from the Mixer to the Holding tank. The Holding tank continued to request product until the level detects as full.

C) Header tank:

The Header tank required a level transducer. Operates as the Product Holding tank, but requests product from the Product Holding tank if available.

D) Turntable:

The Turntable has 4 stations where the moulds are filled, the product is formed and removed and the moulds washed in preparation for the next product. The turntable used an inverter and a set of proximity sensor to position the moulds correctly. The turntable required an air and water manifold with solenoids for each station process.

D.1) Station 1 – Fill

This station is equipped with a solenoid that is opened to fill the mould with product.

D.2) Station 2 – Forming

This station is equipped with a pneumatic cylinder to lower the tool into the mould. A solenoid is then opened to allow air into the tool membrane to form the product within the mould.

D.3) Station 3 – Product Unload

This station is equipped with a servo to engage the station onto the mould, and two used to operate mould splitting screws, freeing the product from the mould. The tool lowers the membrane air pressure, then transfers the mould to the Dryer entrance. The tool waits for the door open signal, before lowering the product into the dryer, then removes the membrane air pressure completely and returns to position above the Station.

D.4) Station 4 – Washing

This station is equipped with a pneumatic cylinder to lower the cleaning tool to the mould. A vacuum solenoid will remove any residual product assisted by a wash valve supplying high pressure water.

E) Dryer Conveyor and Doors:

The Dryer has two pneumatically hatch doors and two guillotine doors. The guillotine doors are safety monitored by a safety relay and must be closed before the hatch doors can be opened. Once product is loaded into the dryer, the entrance hatch closes, and opens the guillotine doors, moving the product via the dryer conveyor. The conveyor has an inverter with encoder feedback to determine the distance travelled. A home switch resets the position periodically to prevent cumulative position errors. When the conveyor has completed a full move the guillotine doors close and the exit hatch opens, when indicated safe by the safety relay.

F) Dryer unload:

The unload mechanism is the same as Station 3 load mechanism but removes from the product from the Dryer and places on an unload table.


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